The precedent for UK soul singer Sam Smith’s In The Lonely Hour isn’t Adele’s 21 but Frank Sinatra’s In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning: it is a relentlessly heartbreaking ballad and string based ancestor of the Sinatra pop opera. With a singleminded obsessiveness like the songs of unrequited love at the heart of the album, weakened in the deluxe edition by the inclusion of a number of earlier hits, Smith unflinchingly draws you into his tales of a love not lost but never found.
Given Sam Smith’s homosexuality, the question of a love requited becomes more complicated. In the majority of these songs Smith is paralyzed, stupefied with desire. On the gorgeous and tender “Leave Your Love” video, Smith pleads with a man to leave his girlfriend except it is more like a thought, as though the words can’t be uttered as the rejection is so close to the bone.
The bad thing of “Good Thing” is the building blocks that will reach its emotional crux with “Not In That Way”. Imagine the sexual ambiguity of the Buzzcocks was being arranged by Nelson Riddle and you will have some feel for Smith’s achievements and “Not In That Way” –a term I’ve heard more than once, reaches so deep inside it seems to rupture his soul.
Unlike Adele, or even Amy, Sam shows feeling through quietness, when his sorrow breakthroughs he glides into his falsetto, and lets it take him there, and somewhere in his voice there is a sob you aren’t hearing… on this album. If you’ve heard Naughty Boy’s “La La La” or Disclosure’s “Latch” you’ll know the man can sing upbeat, can sing disco, can ride a beat. But for his debut album, Smith wanted to do something else, he wanted to try something not done in a long while: In The Lonely Hour is a little like Tangled Up In Blue or maybe Imperial Bedroom; Smith takes apart one, the word isn’t really relationship, one hopeless, helpless, pathetic, lost and not returned. It is much worse to love your best friend and not have that love returned, you have all the closeness and intimacy of love but none of the deepened feelings of sexual love: in many ways it is about as sad as sad can be to be in love with a close friend, especially if you’re gay and he isn’t, the hopelessness is overwhelming and the intensity: two thirds daydream, one third living hell where all sense of proportion is distorted and driven into the netherworld.
It is fertile ground for the tumultuous sound of pop, even when played on blue notes, it is as extreme as human love can get and on song after song here, it is as good as pop music can get as well.
I was happier because I knew I was happy
a snapshot of big hits and high tides, mostly high tides.
There is just a lot to love
the sound seemed to erupt from every side of the room
still on top
“danceable music for the end of days”
contracts its world in Nashisms
let’s take what we are offered
It’s the music, stupid